The 37 Best Ghost Movies of All Time, from Laugh-Out-Loud Comedies to Spine-Chilling Horror
As we creep closer and closer to Halloween, the movie night agenda starts to change. Forget light and breezy rom-coms and aspirational travel flicks—we want ghouls, goblins and ghosts. Fortunately, we have put together a list of the best ghost movies of all time to give you a leg up on your Netflix-and-thrill time, no matter what you’re in the mood to watch. Without further ado, here are the finest slasher movies, campy horror-comedies, kid-friendly flicks and psychological thrillers you can find on Amazon, Hulu and all your other go-to streaming channels.
1. “Poltergeist” (1982)
Screen time never looked scarier than it does in Poltergeist, the 1980s thriller that left its mark on a generation. This prime example of Steven Spielberg’s knack for horror begins on a rather benign note, as the ghosts that the Freeling family encounter through their TV appear to be, well, kind of fun and friendly. Suffice it to say, said spirits show their true colors by the end of the film and it’s downright terrifying.
2. “Casper” (1995)
Unlike Poltergeist, there’s no bait and switch in this adaptation of the cartoon series: Casper the ghost is sweet, personable and an all-around good friend from start to finish. Casper’s uncles, on the other hand, are a different story. Indeed, the trio of unsavory spirits do their best to wreak havoc from the moment that Kat (Christina Ricci) and her father (Bill Pullman)—an afterlife therapist on a mission—set foot in the decrepit old mansion. References to death abound and there’s some mild language and violence, but the scares in this family-friendly film won’t be too intense for the tweenage crowd.
3. “The Sixth Sense” (1999)
This psychological thriller is every bit as scary as a slasher film but with a lot more thought behind it. Cole, the young boy who famously says he “sees dead people” ultimately convinces his therapist (Bruce Willis) that these apparitions are real, as opposed to merely a sign of mental disturbance. We’ll leave the plot summary there lest we stray into spoiler territory, but viewers should know that the atmosphere of the film is loaded with suspense and the spirits portrayed are visually disturbing, too. In other words, this one is best viewed by adults and perhaps the high schoolers in the family.
4. “The House on Haunted Hill” (1959)
If you’re used to more modern horror films, The House on Haunted Hill might not be up your alley—namely because this black-and-white horror flick from the 50s is more campy than it is scary. Indeed, this classic haunted house story is far more likely to deliver laughs than it is hair-raising scares, but the acting and witty dialogue alike are sure to keep you entertained.
5. “The Haunting” (1963)
Despite being released only four years later, The Haunting is far less comfortable to watch than The House on Haunted Hill. In fact, there’s an uneasy mood from the moment Dr. John Markway sets foot inside the Hill House, with three companions in tow, to explore the purported paranormal activity there. The scariest part of this film is the difficulty in determining whether the spooky events taking place in the house are real or simply a product of the psychological stress of its visitors. Bone-chilling and mind-bending at once, this one delivers on all fronts.
6. “Ringu” (1998)
Chances are you’ve heard of the American remake, but the original horror film from Japanese director Hideo Nakata is far more frightening. The story revolves around a reporter who investigates a mysterious videotape said to cause death within seven days to whomever dares watch it—and that is indeed the case. Needless to say, there’s a paranormal explanation for the events, but you’ll have to find out for yourself—just prepare yourself to be truly terrified throughout the entire viewing experience.
7. “Ghostbusters” (1984)
A cult classic 80s comedy starring Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson as a team of paranormal experts whose services are requested when New York City finds itself facing a considerable problem with ghosts. Watch this one for the camp, not the spooks, since the scare factor here is fairly low. (Hint: All but the youngest kids should be able to handle this ghost story.)
8. “Ghost” (1990)
It’s all in the title, folks: This one is about a ghost—a sexy Patrick Swayze ghost who, after tragically dying in a criminal event, has some loose ends to tie up before ascending into the spirit world. The mission? To catch the guy that took his life and help his fiancee and true love, played by an (also sexy) Demi Moore, find closure. There’s considerable cheese in this 90s gem—but that won’t stop you from crying your eyes out, so be sure to have some tissues handy.
9. “The Shining” (1980)
Brilliant use of sound and music makes for non-stop tension and terror in this story about a dysfunctional father (Jack Nicholson) who goes mad and attempts to reenact the gruesome past of the haunted, abandoned hotel in which he and his family are staying. Based on a novel by Steven King, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is essentially just a family-in-haunted-house horror film, but you wouldn’t necessarily think of it that way—namely because it’s leagues above the rest.
10. “The Devil’s Backbone” (2001)
Set in an orphanage during the Spanish Civil War, this nuanced ghost story from director Guillermo del Toro has nothing to do with cheap thrills. Instead, you can expect a storyline with substance buttressed by suspense and a creepy, gothic atmosphere. Overall, this one is visually stunning, incredibly smart and heart-wrenching, too.
11. “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey” (1991)
Everything you’d expect from a follow-up to the classic 90s comedy about a duo of dense teens and their out-of-the-ordinary encounters. Here, Bill & Ted get a taste of the afterlife but ultimately manage to beat Death and evil robots to boot. The plot is absurd, but quite fun—and naturally, there are plenty of laughs throughout the sci-fi storyline.
12. “A Tale of Two Sisters” (2003)
A Korean horror flick about two sisters, one recently released from a mental institution, who face a potential supernatural threat. The story is rife with complicated family dynamics (plus all the drama that entails) and plot turns that are liable to leave you feeling a bit lost—at least upon first viewing. Although perhaps a tad too complex for the genre, this film is engaging from start to finish and full of thrills.
13. “Spirited Away”
This critically-acclaimed Japanese fantasy follows Chihiro, a 10-year old girl who has recently moved to a new neighbourhood, on her adventure into the world of spirits, as well as her subsequent effort to bring not just herself but both her parents back to the earthly realm. The breathtaking animation and beautiful accompanying scores are among the reasons why this film is sure to captivate the imagination of viewers of all ages.
14. “A Ghost Story” (2017)
A film about grief, loss and remembrance, A Ghost Story focuses on relationship dynamics through the lens of the dead—specifically, the perspective of a deceased husband (Casey Affleck) who returns as a phantom to the home he once shared with his wife (Rooney Mara). The end result is a slow-paced but thought-provoking ghost story—it won’t scare you, but it probably will make you ponder the meaning of life.
15. “Personal Shopper” (2017)
This Indie flick about a young woman who may or may not be haunted by the ghost of her deceased twin brother is a bit of a doozy. For starters, the narrative isn’t linear; in fact, you might even say the film suffers from something of an identity crisis. In one moment Personal Shopper feels like a thriller, and then in the next it’s just a quirky commentary on the human experience. Nevertheless, the viewing experience is a rewarding one, due in no small part to Kristen Stewart’s consistently on-point performance.
16. “Heart and Souls” (1993)
You can file this early 90s romantic comedy—starring Robert Downey Jr. and Kyra Sedgwick—in the ghosts-with-unfinished-business category. The gist of the story is that four lost souls are stuck hanging around in the realm of the living, and a child born at the very moment a bus crash took their life is their only hope of making it to heaven. Corny but cute, and entirely wholesome—this one is a good option if you’re looking for a family movie night throwback.
17. “The Entity” (1982)
In many ways, The Entity is every bit as scary as more modern horror movies. (Apparently, Martin Scorcese is a big fan.) It was also quite controversial when it was released in 1982—primarily because the plot involves a woman who claims she is being sexually assaulted by male ghosts. As if that weren’t creepy enough, the screenplay is actually based on the story of a real woman. It probably goes without saying, but this thriller is certainly not for children—and it comes with a big trigger warning for audiences of all ages as well.
18. “1408” (2007)
Here, an adaptation of a short story by Stephen King in which John Cusak plays the part of a paranormal investigator who finds himself in over his head after setting foot in a haunted hotel room. As you might expect, creepy specters play all manner of mind games to torment the poor protagonist, resulting in a horror show that’s thoroughly entertaining and reasonably scary, too.
19. “The Frighteners” (1996)
Considerable talent went into the making of this oft-overlooked horror flick—Peter Jackson (of Lord of the Rings fame) directs, Danny Elfman does the music and Michael J. Fox plays the lead. It’s about a phony exorcist who has to put his money where his mouth is when an evil spirit starts to wreak havoc on his town. A charming combination of moderate scares and comic relief—this one is just right for anyone looking for a horror film experience that won’t linger too long.
20. “Candyman” (1992)
It’s just a myth, right? Well, that’s what Helen thinks when she hears the legend of the Candyman—a hook-handed villain with a taste for blood who is fabled to appear when you say his time five times in front of the mirror. Let’s just say if you tune into this one, you’re in for an effective, and sometimes sexy, horror experience with plenty of slasher-style murders and an excellent score from Philip Glass to boot.
21. “The Others” (2001)
Nicole Kidman—the lead in this gothic thriller—plays the part of a mother awaiting the return of her missing freedom fighter husband, whilst protecting her children from a rare disease that causes photosensitivity. That’s just a set-up for the spooky stuff, though—things get far weirder once paranormal activity enters the picture.
22. “Coco” (2017)
Pixar Studios does what it does best—amazing animation with voice work to match—with this story about cultural appreciation and self-empowerment. The ghost theme is solid, considering that the plot unfolds during a Día de los Muertos celebration, and by all accounts, this portrayal of the Mexican holiday is far more kid-friendly than your average Halloween flick. Still, parents should know that the very tiniest tots (read: 3 to 4 year olds) might find some of the characters too menacing.
23. “Beetlejuice” (1988)
A deceased married couple are happily inhabiting their former home, but when new owners put down roots on the premises, something must be done. Enter, Betelgeuse—a “bio-exorcist” with some pretty hilarious (and horrifying) plans for scaring off the intruders. This horror comedy from Tim Burton boasts an all-star cast (Michael Keaton, Geena Davis, Alec Baldwin, Catherine O’Hara) and lots of wacky charm.
24. “The Changeling” (1980)
Mystery and terror abound in this supernatural thriller, which stars George. C. Scott as a musician who investigates the riddled past of his spooky new home after discovering the ghost of a young boy dwells there as well.
25. “The Beyond” (1981)
The second film in the Gates of Hell trilogy, The Beyond is Italian gothic horror at its finest. The story takes place in an abandoned hotel that just so happens to be home to, well, a gate to Hell. Once that gate is opened, there’s no going back, so buckle up and get ready for lots of ghosts, monsters and gore.
26. “Field of Dreams” (1989)
This Academy Award-nominated film is not your typical ghost story—it’s more likely to make you tear up than tremble. How does a ghost factor into a film about America’s favorite pastime, you ask? It all starts in an empty corn field, where a disembodied voice with a message: “If you build it, they will come.” (Hint: Once the baseball diamond is built, a whole team of ghosts come onto the scene.)
27. “Scrooged” (1988)
An adaptation of A Christmas Carol starring Bill Murray as a selfish and sour business executive. We’d tell you more but you can probably guess—there’s three ghosts and a lot of personal growth.
28. “We Are Still Here” (2015)
The Sacchettis, looking for a quiet place to grieve after tragically losing their son to a car crash, buy a home in rural New England—and let’s just say they got a lot more than they bargained for. Yep, this another haunted house film; it’s not particularly original, but it will scare you silly.
29. “The Canal” (2014)
Beautiful visuals and impeccable sound design combine to create an intensely uncomfortable atmosphere throughout this psychological thriller about a man who investigates the gruesome past of the home he resides in. This indie flick from the award-winning Irish director Ivan Kavanagh will be appreciated by film buffs and horror junkies alike.
30. “The Conjuring” (2013)
Peter and Carolyn Perron and their five daughters move into a new home in Rhode Island...and what could be wrong with that? Well, quite a lot. Naturally, there’s evil spirits, possessions and exorcisms in this one—but The Conjuring really stands out for the fact that all the scares actually catch you off guard.
31. “Hausu” (1977)
Grotesque, bizarre and very campy—this Japanese film is unlike any haunted house movie you’ve ever seen. Hausu is part horror, part comedy and 100 percent weird (in the best way possible). Suffice it to say, you won’t be able to tear your eyes away from the screen.
32. “The Fog” (1980)
Angry spirits, in the form of a deadly fog, descend upon a coastal town in California...and the rest is scary movie history. (No, really, history has quite a lot to do with it—these ghosts are looking for revenge.) John Carpenter—the director of Halloween—is behind this one, so it should come as no surprise that it has all the makings of an instant horror classic.
33. “Session 9” (2001)
This psychological thriller starts when a team of asbestos removers show up for work at an abandoned insane asylum and are treated to a host of supernatural scares. That said, it’s worth noting that Session 9 requires a lot more of the viewer than most of the horror flicks on this list: The plot will mess with your head and if you’re not paying close attention, you’ll likely just be very confused.
34. “The Amityville Horror” (1979)
You know the drill: a family moves into a new home and gets terrorized by evil spirits. The original Amityville Horror features slime, walls that ooze blood, swarms of flies and all sorts of things that would make you pack your bags and hit the road. (Spoiler: That’s exactly what the Lutz family does.)
35. “The Innkeepers” (2011)
Two co-workers at an old bed and breakfast get a ghostly surprise (or several) in Ti West’s indie horror film, The Innkeepers. This one is certainly scary—just don’t expect the thrills to happen too soon, because it’s rather slow paced compared to other movies in the genre.
36. ‘The Curse of La Llorona’ (2019)
Ignoring the eerie warning of a troubled mother suspected of child endangerment, a social worker and her own small kids are soon drawn into a frightening supernatural realm. James Wan’s The Curse of La Llorona may not have received the highest score on Rotten Tomatoes, but it left audiences (at least us) hearing that evil spirit's cry for weeks.
37. ‘Doctor Sleep’ (2019)
Based on the novel by Stephen King, Doctor Sleep continues the story of Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) 40 years after his terrifying stay at the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. Although he’s trying to get past his own trauma, things are harder than they seem when he encounters Abra, a courageous teenager with her own powerful extrasensory gift, known as the “shine.”